The weirdest part of the Journey Into Manhood weekend was the week after it was over.
After three days surrounded by men who understood me, supported me, had been where I had been and further, were free with hugs, and didn’t look at me funny after they had seen me all curled up and sobby, mainly because they had just got done being all curled up and sobby — I faced the problem of reentry.
They warned us about it as they sent us off on Sunday, said to look out because we had probably “loosened some stuff up” and so we shouldn’t be surprised if a few things kept on flowing for the next few days or weeks. Flowing, like ooze from a wound, or like the woman in Luke with the flow of blood.
It could have been, but probably wasn’t, the power of suggestion that had me suddenly and repeatedly leaving my desk, all that week, to go wail or cackle or shiver somewhere private.
It felt like an emotional hemorrhage, years of stored-up elation and horror and apprehension and grief just gushing out of some hole I didn’t know I had. There was no content or context or pattern or reason, and no way to predict when the next one was coming.
Except “hemorrhage” isn’t right, because it was good. The flowing-out of these emotions felt like the flowing-in of cool, clean water.
My poor, British-descended, congenitally undemonstrative roommate was baffled. He watched me howling on the couch, in the fetal position, for no reason at all, an hour after I had been literally bouncing up and down with manic joy. When the attack was over, he explained that he would’ve given me a hug, but he thought that might’ve made me cry harder.
“Okay,” I said between sniffles, “Thanks. But next time, giving me a hug would be a good idea. If you want to.”
It subsided, thank goodness. After that, there were a few months of feeling off-kilter, like I had spent a long while at a nudist colony and still felt weird about wearing clothes. Eventually things went back to normal, and if I got the Bends, at least I recovered.
Except not really. Because you don’t go having transformative experiences and then keep on going the way you were going. It’s like something that (ahem) a certain family member, who is older and wiser now, said about coming down from a great trip: you might’ve thought you achieved Enlightenment while you were as high as a Georgia pine, but unless that experience is transferrable to the rest of your life, it might as well not have happened at all. Satori that bears no fruit is no satori.
But things don’t change all at once, either. It’s like human life: the beginning is the attention-getter, but the real magic is what happens in the nine months afterwards. Not to mention the three score and ten years after that.